Bill Richardson leaves Cuba without U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, in a stunning setback, says he will leave Cuba on Wednesday without even meeting seeing a U.S. government subcontractor jailed in Havana for nearly 22 months.

Miami Democrat Joe Garcia, a longtime Richardson friend, said the Cuban government’s refusal to allow the meeting, after inviting the former governor to the island, reflects a serious split within the country’s ruling class.

“Perhaps the Cuban government has decided it does not want to improve relations” with Washington, Richardson was quoted saying at a news conference in Havana on Tuesday. “Perhaps that is the message it is sending.”

Cuba’s rejection of the meeting was clearly a setback for efforts to warm relations between Havana and Washington, which has called for subcontractor Alan P. Gross to be freed on humanitarian grounds.

Richardson landed in Havana Sept. 7 amid reports that Cuba had “invited” him, which sparked hopes that the 62-year-old Gross would be freed and sent home to Potomac, Md., when Richardson left.

Yet, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told him that he would not be allowed to meet with Gross, Richardson said. He pushed his case during meetings with Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega and others and even vowed to remain in Havana until he met Gross.

“I have been here a week and tried through all means — with religious institutions, diplomats from other countries, all kinds of efforts — and I see that this isn’t going to change,” he was quoted as saying Tuesday.

The former U.S. presidential hopeful and United Nations ambassador, who has won the release of several U.S. citizens around the world and visited Cuba several times, said he would leave Wednesday.

Cuba’s rejection of the meeting raised questions about Richardson’s invitation to visit Havana.

One Washington Post report called the Cuban rejection an “extraordinary snub.” And an activist for improved U.S.-Cuba relations wrote a column asking if Richardson had “misplayed his hand.”

Joe Garcia said he did not know the details of the invitation but that Richardson had asked Cuban officials for a visa and made it clear that he would seek Gross’ freedom during the visit.

“Cuba is not a place where you invite yourself, and Bill Richardson is not a guy who just shows up. He wasn’t volunteering for the sugar harvest,” Garcia said. “He’s one of the most experienced foreign policy figures in the world.”

“There are obviously people inside Cuba who don’t want things to change,” he told El Nuevo Herald, noting that the Obama administration cannot move to improve relations with the island unless Gross is freed.

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